NEWS
07/09/2019 16:24 BST | Updated 08/09/2019 10:06 BST

MP 'Frightened To Speak' As Brexit Protest On Parliament Square Turns Violent

Police were aware both protests had been planned for central London on Saturday.

PA Media: UK News

An MP has said she was too frightened to speak at a rally in Parliament Square as two groups of pro and anti-Brexit protesters clashed.

Anna Soubry, who is against Britain leaving the EU, had been scheduled to speak at the March for Change demonstration in London on Saturday.

However shortly before the event, Soubry told organisers she was too frightened to speak due to intimidation from counter-protests held by the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA).

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. It’s awful but there’s also a side of me that thinks that this is our country,” the MP - and leader of the Independent Group for Change - told the PA news agency. 

“I’m a parliamentarian and I have a right to speak and I shouldn’t be frightened but it’s very, very, very disturbing, and I’m very frightened actually.”

After consulting with the police and protest organisers, the MP left the rally, telling officers she did not want to cause additional issues for them as they monitored both events.

Other speakers still scheduled to speak at the event include Green Party co-leader Sian Berry and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Around 200 people came out in support of the DFLA’s pro-Brexit demonstration.

When members of the anti-Brexit group March for Change began to set up for a rally of their own, some members of the DFLA approached and began shouting.

A beer can was thrown towards about ten people from the March for Change protest, before police on horseback intervened.

Police knew about both protests prior to Saturday.

PA Media: UK News

A blimp in the shape of Boris Johnson had been set to fly at the March for Change, scheduled to begin in London at 2pm.

However after the altercation with the DFLA, March for Change organisers told the PA news agency the blimp would not fly as it was likely to become a target.

Tom Brufatto, one of the directors of the March for Change, said the protesters were there to “demonstrate peacefully and defend our democracy”.

“We have been attacked three times. We respect people’s right to protest but we do not respect people’s rights to intimidate and be aggressive,” he said.

“It’s very disappointing that because of the aggression we have received today even before getting started, we have had to send the Boris blimp home because we feared it was going to be used as an excuse for violence against our supporters.

“We hope that despite the disruption that we are still able to prove an interesting and big event for our supporters.”

Across the UK and Europe, 35 other events are being held at the same time, including a pro-democracy protest in Berlin.

The DFLA, derived from the Football Lads Alliance (FLA), describes itself as an “anti-extremist” movement but has increasingly become associated with far-right politics.

Last year, the Premier League warned its clubs about reported attempts by the FLA to bring discriminatory banners and flags into stadiums, according to the BBC.

The Times also reported that the group’s supporters displayed banners attacking Islam.

PA Media: UK News

Hundreds of people also gathered outside nearby Downing Street on Saturday, to demand Boris Johnson’s resignation.

Organised by groups including Another Europe is Possible, Momentum and the Green Party, the Demand Democracy: Johnson Out protesters said the Prime Minister was “attacking democracy”.

Speakers at the event included Labour MP Diane Abbott and Green Party co-leader Sian Berry, while protesters carried signs bearing messages such as Stop the Coup and Migrants welcome.

A human barricade of police was formed after a small group of pro-Brexit protesters started attacking police officers.

The march was eventually allowed to start, surrounded by a heavy police presence, occasionally pausing in a tense stand-off with counter-protesters.

Marchers chanted “fascist scum off our streets” and “refugees welcome”.

Berry also addressed the rally in Parliament Square and praised the work of opposition MPs for proposing and passing a Bill to prevent a no-deal Brexit prior to the suspension of Parliament.

Addressing the pro-Brexit protesters on the other side of the square, she said: “That’s why they’re here today, they know they’re losing.”

During speeches, the crowd of several hundred people started cheers of “bollocks to Brexit” and “bollocks to Boris”.

PA Media: UK News

Rows of police, including officers on horseback, stood between the two groups of pro and anti-Brexit protesters.

Some members of the protest organised by the DFLA were seen throwing eggs at people filming them.

Labour and Co-operative MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle called Brexit “evil” in a passionate speech delivered at the rally.

He said: “Every day that passes that we remain in the European Union is a victory to our movement.

“While some call us traitors, we are not the ones trying to break up this country and turn it into an English, white nationalist country, they are.

“We are not the ones destroying the rights of migrants, they are. Just like all things, good will triumph over evil and Brexit is evil.”

The MP also accused Leave-supporting politicians, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, of aspiring to turn the UK into a “nasty feudalistic country”.

Speaking about the possibility Parliament will be suspended next week, he added: “We MPs will continue to sit in Parliament and we ask you to set up a community People’s Parliament across the country.”